Friday, May 14, 2010
AKKUYU, Mersin - Hürriyet Daily News
Chronic unemployment, shuttered hotels, empty fields and empty beaches are the marks of a village damned by rumors about a potential nuclear energy plant coming to town. While Russian businessmen and Turkish politicians rejoice over their deal in Ankara, residents in Akkuyu lament three lost decades with a smile – maybe their time has finally come
Akkuyu residents seem to be opposed to the construction of a nuclear power plant 'in principle' but joblessness forces them to view the issue from a different perspective. DAILY NEWS photo, Hasan ALTINIŞIK
After 30 years in limbo, a village on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast might finally find reason to hope for its future in the form of $20 billion deal for Russia to build a nuclear energy plant.
Once staunchly opposed to the project, after decades of economic growth stifled by the prospects of a nuclear plant, locals in Mersin’s Akkuyu village are starting to turn in favor of the construction out of need for work and investment in their town. As well, as the years have passed, the population has dwindled and few people have invested in agriculture.
The historic deal signed between Turkish and Russian leaders in Ankara on Wednesday would mean Turkey’s first nuclear power plant would be built by Russian firm Atomstroyexport.
Nuclear power timeline
1957: Turkey becomes party to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
1976: Akkuyu, Mersin, picked as the location for a nuclear power plant. The foundation is laid. However, a bid yields no results.
1980: İnceburun, Sinop, in the Black Sea Region, picked as the location of a second nuclear power plant.
1996: The bidding process for the Akkuyu plant is cancelled eight times successively.
July 2000: During Bülent Ecevit’s time as prime minister, the Akkuyu Power Plant Project is annulled by a Cabinet decision.
2006: Energy Minister Hilmi Güler announces a new bidding process.
Feb. 21, 2008: Companies are invited to bid.
September 2008: Russia’s Atomstroyexport and its domestic partners win the tender to build and operate the country's first nuclear power plant.
November 2009: The government cancels the tender.
May 12, 2010: A $20 billion deal signed between Turkey and Russia establishes a new foundation for the proposed Akkuyu nuclear power plant.Meanwhile, sitting on a picture-perfect bay roughly 135 kilometers from the provincial center, Akkuyu is a ghost town.
Indeed, the population of 2,000 has suffered from chronic unemployment, even though the town has been promised that it would become “a new Paris in five years” and “new jobs will be created.”
A 14,000-hectare plot of land, surrounded by barbed wire since 1976 due to imminent expectations of a nuclear power plant at the time, embodies Akkuyu’s dilemma.
Although residents said they are against the construction of a nuclear power plant “in principle,” joblessness has forced them to view the issue from a different perspective.
Even former Energy Minister Hilmi Güler said Akkuyu residents want the plant because people expect the creation of around 6,000 jobs with the reactor.
Meanwhile, many people in Büyükeçeli, a town built on one of the most beautiful bays in the region, had fought against the plans, but now say they want the plant.
Hopes of being a new Paris
Eşref Uğur, owner of “Eşref Usta’s Place” in Kemer in the nearby district of Silifke, recently summed up the public’s feelings for the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, saying, “When I was 15, they said Akkuyu would be a new Paris in five years.
“Now the place looks like it is stuck in the Stone Age. Agriculture is dead due to water shortages. The youth escape to Antalya or Alanya. There are no investments. Nobody cares. We know that the atom is harmful,” he said, adding that residents had little other choice.
“Two hotels were built, but they remain idle,” said Hakan Uğur. “If there is investment, things would change. We have no energy left to debate the nature of the investment.”
The town’s annual income stands at 1 million Turkish Liras. There are facilities geared toward tourism, including 60 bungalows belonging to the municipality that provide half of the jurisdiction’s income. There are two five-star hotels, but they have never opened their doors.
The municipality’s debts, meanwhile, have reached 14 million liras. Mayor Mehmet Kale, from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, has been in office for 15 months.
“I am not against the nuclear [plant], but the tourism potential would be harmed,” he told the Daily News. “We had visiting investors from Syria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. As soon as they heard about the nuclear power plans, they ran away. There is the industrialized region of Ceyhan only 200 kilometers from here. Let them build the plant there.”
A nuclear power plant would increase the seawater temperature by 1 degree Celsius, Kale said. “That would destroy the ecological balance.”
Asked what would have happened had no nuclear plans been made 30 years ago, Kale said Akkuyu would have been an area with “$20 billion in investments and a population of at least 15,000.”
“This place would have been another Kemer or Çeşme,” he said. “The nuclear plant project includes six bays. Who would want to swim here then? Tourism operators in Antalya and Alanya have not understood the gravity of the situation yet.”
Although he speaks against the plans, he has been known to chase away anti-nuclear protestors, claiming they are “separatists.”
The perception on the street, however, is different than the impression given by the mayor.
Speaking at a teahouse, Kemal Budak, a village headman for the past 33 yeas, said the residents “have lost confidence in their future” and thus have started supporting the government’s plans. “In the past we were all against it. We could not manage to be like the Bergama villagers, who fought against cyanide gold mining.”
Ersan Taş, owner of the 22-year-old teahouse, said he was against nuclear energy, but now things have changed. “Many countries have it, why not us?” he asked. “Environmentalists also oppose the Bosphorus bridge. As we have nothing to lose here, the only way out is saying the plant should be built.”
Taş said there are only a few people opposing the nuclear plans. One is Mehmet Ali Yıldız, a retired teacher who took the matter to Parliament, going to Ankara to talk with political party representatives.
“They divided the public by using unemployment,” he told the Daily News. “What kind of jobs are we talking about here? The fuel, the technology will come from abroad. They may use us, at best, for their laundry and dirty dishes. The Russian dream has been fulfilled: They have reached the warm waters of the Mediterranean.”
Noting that Sinop, the Black Sea province in which the government plans to build a second nuclear power plant, has been fighting against the scheme as “a single body,” Yıldız said Mersin province had not supported their cause. “I hope we won’t pay a heavy price.”
The municipality’s bungalow-facility stands like a castle above the beautiful bay. Suat Bulut, a waiter at the facilities, is a graduate of Konya Selçuk University’s finance department, but works for 200 liras a month. He hopes the municipality will earn more money once the nuclear plant is built.
“There are no young people left here. Everyone’s gone,” he said. “[If the plant is built], we would earn money. In my village, everybody would say yes.”
Ali Gökçe, who led the Motherland Party in the district for 15 years, is also for nuclear power. “I would like to ask Greenpeace: What [alternative] do they offer [for the people] who would be earning their bread? Do they have a plan? Many countries such as Sweden or France have nuclear energy. Why not us?”